10 January 2009

The Infallible Adalbert de Vogüé on Old Books

It occurred to me that this post could do with an update. Those who wish to learn about who this gifted scholar is often stumble across my blog through Google searches for his name, and while I unhesitatingly proclaim his infallibility, I provide precious little biographical information on him. Fortunately, I recently discovered an excellent one-paragraph bio on the homepage of Les Éditions du Cerf, the publisher that has had the distinction of putting much of de Vogüé's work into print. I do not read French, but I believe I have made enough sense of this bio to give a paraphrase of some of it here (anyone with better French can feel free to correct me if I've made an outright error):
Born in 1924, Adalbert de Vogüé became a monk of the Abbaye Ste-Marie de La Pierre-qui-Vire in 1944. Receiving his doctorate in theology in Paris in 1959, he studied Patristics and ancient monasticism at the monastery as well as at the College of Saint Anselm in Rome. Since 1974, he has lived in a hermitage close to his monastery, devoting himself to the study of monastic history.
De Vogüé is an eminent scholar of the Life and Rule of St Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism, having published editions and commentaries on both of these earliest sources on the Saint. In my reading of a certain Orthodox blogger, I have concluded that it was high time I found a heterodox writer to deem 'infallible', so that I could 'spread the knowledge of his infallibility throughout the land'. Adalbert de Vogüé is that man for me. I don't know about starting a regular feature with quotes from his books, but every so often, perhaps, his work may put in an appearance.

This is from the introductory note 'To Novices' in his book, Reading St Benedict: Reflections on the Rule, trans. Colette Friedlander, OCSO (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1994), p. 15. Although the infallible Adalbert de Vogüé is writing specifically about St Benedict's Rule, the statement, 'In an ancient text like this', alerts us that much of what he has to say can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to any of the old books.

In conclusion, I would like to wish you the grace of patiently reading the Rule. Not all of it is interesting at first glance. In an ancient text like this, many things apparently mean nothing to us. We must learn to wait, to pay attention to what we have trouble understanding, to come to grasp a language and concerns which are not ours. You will notice that this commentary makes little distinction between what we find meaningful today and the rest. It assumes that everything is interesting provided we are capable of taking an interest in it. We must leave ourselves behind and listen to another's voice if we are to receive something. In return for this attentive, patient, and respectful openness, the Rule, like the Gospel from which it derives, will be for you what it has been for so many monks and nuns to this day: a treasure as new as it is old.


Esteban Vázquez said...

I'm afraid that you are grievously mistaken, Mr Taylor: only Moises Silva is infallible.

aaronandbrighid said...

I prefer to believe that there are seven infallible 'worthies' scattered among the heterodox at any given moment. It is impossible for one individual to recognise all seven.

Macrina said...

Infallible or not, heterodox or not, you are making me feel rather an idiot for not having read more of de Vogüé. We only have his major works in French and ... [she sighs] ... but I suppose that's a puny excuse.

Apart from some articles I did read his To love fasting, published, if I remember correctly, by St Bede's Publications in Petersham. I remember being struck by it - verydifferent from most contemporary western discussions on the theme (insofar as they exist that is).

By the way, is it possible for an Orthodox writer to be infallible? I had thought of declaring Andrew Louth infallible. But then I'm a bit hesitant about identifying infallibility with an individual - it's probably a Catholic thing!

aaronandbrighid said...

That your monastery only possesses de Vogüé's works in French is merely a very good reason to master the reading of that language, blessed as it has been to have been the linguistic receptacle for his writings. Even if nothing else worthwhile had been written in the French tongue, and I'm willing to admit that perhaps nothing has, this would constitute a sufficient excuse.

As for Orthodox writers, I just assumed that there were so many infallible ones that it was no longer worthy of note. ;-) I can't say about Fr Louth. There was a time that I would have been much more hesitant to concur, but Fr Placide's writings have made the former seem a bit more Orthodox to me. Of course, I have unfortunately not read 'Discerning the Mystery', which, were I to do so, may well tip the scales for all I know.

Benjamin Ekman said...

Father de Vogue has been found dead in the woods close to his hermitage. May he rest in peace.


aaronandbrighid said...

Thank you, Benjamin. Macrina Walker very kindly informed me of this as well. May he rest in peace, indeed.